Report From AWP 2014

If you were on Twitter this weekend, you probably saw #AWP14 trending.  If you were on Facebook, you no doubt noticed a lot of photos from Seattle (the Space Needle! Chihuly Glass! Pike Place Market!) and people quoting various writers.  And if you read last week's newsletter/most recent post, you know that I was one of the many writers who attended three full days of panels, readings and an enormous bookfair at AWP in Seattle.

When I say many, I mean many.  I heard estimates between 11,000 and 13,000.  The official AWP website says "over 10,00" and also that it is the largest literary conference in North America.

I believe it.  Events were held at the Sheraton (the official conference hotel, where I stayed, one of a gazillion hotels that housed us), the huge convention center and the convention center annex.  I've never been on so many escalators in my life.  There are events all day long and into the evening at these venues, as well as numerous off-site parties, readings, and get-togethers at night.

AWP stands for Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and the organization is comprised of 50,000 writers, 500 college and university programs, and 125 writers' conferences and centers.  (I'm quoting from the website.)  Many of these programs and centers exhibit at the conference, along with numerous literary journals and small presses.  The Bookfair is unbelievably huge and I've learned over the years not to buy or collect too much, or the tote bag you get upon picking up your badge will not fit in your luggage for the return trip home.

The schedule features panels, readings and, if you're a really big author, an interview or discussion about your work.  But most of the day is taken up by panels of three or four writers plus a moderator. Any member can submit a panel (I've got a group in discussion about submitting for next year and have been on a panel in the past).  The subjects vary wildly, from topics on craft, to pedagogy, to trends in publishing, to information on how to create a winning reading.  Anything related to literature might find a home on an AWP panel.  As a wild guess, I'd say there are upwards of 30 panels and readings at each time slot during the day, of which there are six, and then there are two time slots for readings in the evening as well.  The selection is, to be honest, overwhelming. And it's a crap shoot as well, with the panels varying widely in quality (which is why there's no stigma attached to arriving or leaving in the middle of a presentation).

AWP is about as literary a conference as you're going to get.  (Some might same that a few panels even lean toward the arcane.)  You don't attend expecting to hear the latest bestselling romance author speak, that's for sure.  And it is a stronghold of writers from traditional university programs with legacy publishing house contracts.  Which is why it was so interesting to me to see Amazon all over the place--as sponsor, exhibitor, and host of two panels.  Indeed, Jon Fine, director of author and publishing relations at Amazon, joked that he used to feel he should wear a Kevlar vest to protect himself at such events, though things have changed in the last year or so. (I meant to write more about these panels in this post but since it is already getting so long I will save that info for another day.)

I gotta say, being around this many people for several days is wonderful--and also a bit much.  I think of myself as a balance between introvert and extrovert.  I crave time alone spent writing, but at the end of the day, I'm ready for human contact.  This year at AWP, I realized that maybe I'm more on the introverted scale than I thought.  I'm actually very outgoing and easily strike up conversations with strangers. But, after a couple of panels and a stroll through the bookfair, I needed to go back to my hotel and get some downtime.

A non-writing friend asked me if I was meeting new people.  Yes, and no.  Mostly I hung out with my dear friend Diana, which was the best treat ever.  (She has an amazing new book of poems just out called Lust, which I highly recommend.)  Diana's son Josh runs a hip literary journal called The Newer York Press and it was fun to meet him and the people who work with him.  I reconnected with old friends from my MFA days and that is always a pleasure. I had some entertaining brief chats with other writers. But the conference is so big and overwhelming that it is not conducive to meeting new folks. (The place where I did meet people was on the train.  My seatmate on the way up was also attending AWP so we chatted happily off and on from Portland to Seattle, and the woman I shared a cab with from the station to the hotel was also from Portland.  Turns out we are pretty sure we used to know each other when we were both active with a local writing group.)

To me, attending AWP is acknowledgment that there is a huge like-minded community out there that cares about the same things that I do.  It's fun to wander around town and see other people with the tell-tale lime-green lanyard attached to their badge and feel a connection.  It's thrilling to walk the street from the hotel to the convention center in a throng of writers.  It's amazing to come home with your head buzzing from all the information it has just absorbed--and also to feel energized and excited about the possibilities for putting words on the page.

So, if you get the chance, attend AWP some time.  You don't have to be affiliated with any university or writing program, all you have to be is interested in writing.  Next year the conference will be in Minneapolis in April.  I'm pretty sure I'll be there!

What's your favorite writing conference?  Do you make it a point to attend conferences regularly?


10 Ways to Connect With Other Writers

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The crowd of writers probably will not be quite this rowdy.

As you read this post, I will be attending the annual Associated Writer's Programs conference in Seattle, more commonly known as AWP.  Rumor has it that 11,000 writers will be there, though I'm a bit suspicious of that number.  (I've had numerous people, writers among them, ask me what on earth an AWP is, so here's an explanation: it's the organization that all the university writing programs belong to, and it also hosts a massive book fair of independent presses and journals.)

I've been to AWP four or five times in the past, in such disparate locations as Baltimore, Chicago (twice) and New York City.  It is always a blast to be around a bunch of other writers (the bars are crowded all day long) and wonderful to sit in on various panel discussions and presentations.  One year I even presented on a panel--biggest crowd I've ever spoken in front of, and it was pretty great.

Anyway....all this has got me thinking about how important connecting is to writers.  After all, independent ad solitary by nature, we like to sit in our rooms and write, so connecting may not be uppermost on your list of goals.  But I've always found that writers, once they get unchained from their desks, are the most interesting people in the world.  That's reason enough to connect with other writers, but you'll also find a sense of belonging that only talking shop with other knowledgeable souls can bring.  When you get stuck or discouraged, or face another rejection, you'll know someone you can call on who will understand.  (Because, let's face it, non-writers just don't get so many aspects of our lives.)

I've had several students and clients, though, ask me how they can get connected to other writers. This post is my answer.  Here you go:

1.  Conferences.  These tend to be big and glitzy and lots of fun.  You can take workshops on all aspects of writing, meet agents and editors, and kibbutz with other writers.  Some conferences also offer workshop components.  Many conferences tend to be held in the summer, so now is the time to plan to attend.  Look to Shaw Guides, Poets & Writers, Writer's Digest and The Writer for information on writer's conferences.

2. Workshops.  I'm arbitrarily naming these workshops, for gatherings that will be smaller and more intimate. While a conference may host hundreds or even thousands, a workshop can be as small as 6 participants.  Most often, there is a teaching component as well as a chance to share and discuss your own work.  I offer workshops through my business Let's Go Write, and our next one, in September will be in Pezenas, France.

3.  Retreats.  Many organized retreats for writers exist.  I used to be on the staff of one in Nashville that featured a few scheduled events and lots and lots of time to write.  It filled up every time we held it! There's something about getting away from your ordinary life that encourages writing.  If you can't find an organized retreat to your liking, create your own--hide out in a motel room for a few days, or rent a room for AirBnB.  It doesn't take much to make a writer happy--computer, pen, notepad and lots of coffee and you're set.  Okay, maybe some wine for the end of the day, too.

4. Ongoing Writer's Groups.  I'm talking about critique groups that meet to discuss work.  Some are led, i.e. you pay someone money to guide the evening, and others are informally organized.  I'm a huge fan of these.  I've belonging to two very-long running groups, one informal, the other led and I actually co-lead a group now.  I also belong to a small ( 4 person) informal group that I organized last year.  Not only will you get some good feedback on your work, you'll most likely make a few writing friends as well.

5.  Beta Readers.  Many writers I know make a habit of assembling a group of beta readers to send their work to when they've finished a draft.  This may not have quite the same degree of connection as in-person contact, but it is still a form of community.

6.  Crit Partners.  Other writers limit their criticism to one crit partner.  I can't speak to this process or how it fosters connection as I've never done it, but I hear good things about it from others who have.

7.  Local Writing Associations.  Here in Portland, we have two largish and very active writing associations who sponsor conferences, regular meetings with speakers, workshops, and readings. When I first started writing years ago, attending Willamette Writers meetings is how I first met other writers.  From there I became active in the group, found an ongoing writer's group and my path was set.

8.  Readings.  Most bookstores offer regular readings.  Go attend them!  Not only will you be supporting other writers, but there's a good chance you'll meet a few while there.  At the very least, you'll hear some good words being read.

9.  Classes.  And, of course, you can always take a class.  The first writing class I ever took was at a local community college, led by the wonderful (and under-read) Craig Lesley.  That was where I first experienced a workshop-style reading of my work.   There are many private classes as well, and don't forget certificate programs such as the one I teach at, The Loft.  

10. Online friends.  Through Twitter, other social media, and this blog, I've made many connections with other writers that I treasure.  Don't be shy--dive in!  I love the way I can communicate with other writers I'd never otherwise meet online.

So those are the ideas that spring to my mind.  What about you?  What are you favorite ways to connect with other writers?

Photo by rp72.


How to Build a Writing Community

Nikon_stones_tag1_15105_hDo you feel supported as a writer?  Do you have a writing buddy you can contact after you receive a rejection?  Someone you can talk to (or write to) when the novel just isn't going the way it should? Do you know other writers with whom you can talk shop?

If not, you're missing out.  I spent last weekend at the Writer's Loft orientation in Nashville, and being surrounded by writers for two days reminded me how vital it is to make connections with others who share our passion. 

It can be difficult to talk about your work with a civilian, because non-writers don't understand the ins and outs of plotting and characterization, just to name a couple.  And most civilians certainly don't get why we are willing to spend hours at our desks writing, when there's no guarantee that what we're working on will ever see the light of day.  The antidote? Find a writing community.  If you don't know how to do that, here are some tips.

1. Take a class.  One of the fastest ways to meet like-minded people is to sign up for a class.  When I first started attending church, I wondered how to meet other people there--but once I signed up for a class I immediately made friends.  Look for local classes at community colleges, privately taught, or sign up for one of many available online classes.

2. Sign up for a program.  There are also programs like the one I talked about above, The Writer's Loft, that offer a longer duration than just one semester.  This can be a great way to meet others, too, and perhaps to even....

3. Join a critique group.   A critique group that meets regularly to review and talk about each other's work is a huge boon.  I've been in various groups for years and couldn't write without them.  Not only will your work improve, but you'll find like-minded people with whom to hang.

4.  Join a writing association. Every genre has a national association that offers online benefits and annual conferences.  Romance writers, mystery writers, children's writers--all of them are well represented.  Use the Google to find the right one for you.

5.  Join a local writing group.  Most communities have local writing groups that offer regular meetings with guest speakers.  Some even present conferences.  These can be a great source for friendships and seeking out critique groups.

6. Go to a writing conference.  Not only is this fun and educational, if you're open and friendly, you might strike up a friendship with a fellow attendee.  Plus, many conferences offer the opportunity to meet agents and editors.  A win-win.

7. Read writing blogs and comment.  I've made many online friends through going to other writing blogs and commenting.  You really don't even need to have a blog of your own to do this, though it helps.  Internet friendships can be as supportive as in-person ones when it comes to writing.

8.  Meet other writers through social media. Ditto above.   I know many people think of social media as a scourge, but I've made great friends through Twitter.

9.  Go to readings.  Support authors and local bookstores when they do readings!  And chat up the person sitting next to you--lots of writers attend readings because we're all avid readers.

 Those are just some ways that you might begin to search out a writing community.  What about you?  How do you find writing community?

Photo by Angela Sevin.


Writers Connecting

I have been away, not only from my home, but from my writing. 

At least, I've been away from the writing writing part of writing, the actual putting words on paper part.

But I've been doing a couple other activities of vital importance, the first being brainstorming and planning and the second being connecting with other writers, which is what I want to talk about today.

Often when I lead a workshop, I  start out by considering the importance of connecting. This surprises people, because they expect me to begin by talking about choosing a pen, or finding the perfect journal, or carving out time for writing. When I talk about connecting, I'm actually talking about  a multi-faceted practice which includes:

* Connecting with the work

* Connecting with other writers

* Connecting with family and friends to gather their support

* Connecting your work with the world

All of them are important.  But sometimes we writers, being solitary creatures, tend to forget how important connecting with other writers is, how inspiring and motivating it can be.  I've spent part of the last week, from Thursday to Sunday, at Room to Write, the twice-yearly writer's retreat at Scarritt Bennett in Nashville. It is held in  April and October, and it offers exactly what is advertised: room in which to write on a gorgeous campus in the middle of Nashville.   You retreat from the world in order to have time and energy to connect with your writing, which is why people sign up for the event.

And yet, they get so much more.

Through connecting with other writers at meals and optional events, they get the invaluable sense of being a part of a creative community, where everyone speaks the same language and nobody thinks you're nuts if you admit that sometimes your characters talk more loudly to you than the real, breathing people in your life.

It is easy to forget how important this is.

We're such solitary creatures, writers are.  We have to be, in order to get words on the page. Most of us can't get much work done when people surround us, and so the natural inclination is to shut the door and stay inside our writing caves.

But the rewards of connection with other writers are so great, its well worth it to open that door and step out into the big, wide world. 

How do you connect with other writers?  Is it important to you?